Saturday, August 9, 2008


Slowly but surely, the Retro Television Network’s “missing pieces” are starting to fall into place, and if I have to send the channel home with a report card, I’d probably give it the grade I’ve indicated in the title of this post. (RTN, of course, can always bring that up to an A- if it’s willing to do a little extra credit work.)

I have to admit, despite some of the programming choices made by Atlanta’s WSB-DTV in assembling their RTN lineup (the knucklehead responsible for scheduling That’s Incredible!—does Mark Evanier still list this one on his resume, I wonder—five days a week has a lot to answer for) there have been some real surprises on this channel—particularly the discovery made by Yet Another Journal’s Linda that the hour-long block of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer reruns consists of the Darren McGavin repeats (1957-59) and not the Stacy Keach episodes (1984-87), as I had originally guessed. (Not that I’m saying I would have been disappernted with Stacy—but the McGavin shows are a delightful find, to be sure.) I shudder to think, as Rick Brooks at Cultureshark reports, of the possibility that RTN will take that flexibility away from its individual affiliates, because that’s just gonna mean more Knight Rider and Magnum, P.I. for the masses, who wouldn’t know good TV if it bit ‘em on the inner thigh.

Perhaps the sweetest thing on RTN’s lineup is the late evening weekday schedule: WSB shows The Rockford Files at 10:00pm, followed by The Alfred Hitchcock Hour at 11, Night Gallery at midnight and Alfred Hitchcock Presents closing up shop. Despite the fact that I have all the Hitchcock Hour shows on DVD (obtained from a fellow who, I’ll only say, writes a good many books on OTR) I’d forgotten how truly entertaining these shows are; one of my particular favorites—based on a short story penned by Robert “Psycho” Bloch—aired the other night, “Water’s Edge” (10/19/64), which stars John Cassavetes as an ex-con who travels to a podunk burg in search of his deceased ex-cellmate’s spouse (Ann Sothern). The two of them go on a hunt for a missing $56,000 her hubby and his partner stole in a payroll robbery—and since I don’t want to give too much away I’ll only say that if you’re familiar with the classic radio play “Three Skeleton Key” “Edge” will creep you out.

My only nitpick about this schedule is that I wish they had switched the timeslots for Gallery and Presents so that I could hit the hay a half-hour earlier. It’s not that I’m not a fan of Gallery—they did some really shuddery episodes on that series, and also some moving dramatic pieces like “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar” (01/20/71) and “The Messiah on Mott Street” (12/15/71)—but in syndicating the series they had to whittle down some of the longer shows with a chainsaw, rendering them completely incoherent. (They also padded out the syndication package with edited episodes of the 1972 supernatural series The Sixth Sense, which even on its best day couldn’t rise above the worst Gallery installment.) A sort of supernatural Love, American Style, Night Gallery plays much better in its original hour-long format—hopefully the long overdue second season DVD release will stick with that arrangement.

I’m also enjoying the Wagon Train repeats (I wrote a post about the show’s available public domain episode back in the Salon days, in which I came to realize that it’s a show I took for granted) as well as Laredo; I watched a Laredo episode entitled “Jinx”(12/02/65) in which I had difficulty placing the actress playing the lead (an Indian outlaw, with apologies to Tim McGraw)…but the moment she spoke, I knew right off she was Shelley Morrison of Will & Grace fame. (Most people indeed know her as Rosario, Karen Walker’s feisty Salvadoran maid—but real TV boomers like us haven’t forgotten her role as Sister Sixto on The Flying Nun—aka “Sister Mary Malaprop.”) Albert Salmi, one of the truly great but neglected character actors was in this one, too, as a new Texas Ranger recruit who’s convinced that everything he touches turns to shit.

I’ve also learned, to my delight, that RTN’s straightened out whatever problems they were having with The Bold Ones; I caught a good one yesterday afternoon, “The Crowd Pleaser” (11/02/69), a Lawyers episode starring Mel Torme as a murderer who beats the rap and lets his admission of guilt slip out in the presence of his attorneys (Burl Ives, Joseph Campanella and James Farentino). The three men are bound by confidentiality rules not to reveal this privileged information…but things get even more hairy when an innocent man (Georg Stanford Brown) is charged with Torme’s crime. It’s a very good example of what made this critically-acclaimed, Emmy-winning series so watchable and while I don’t deny The Velvet Fog has incredible talent, he always left me cold as an actor so he’s very successful here as a complete wanker. (I feel the same way about Mickey Rooney and Harry Connick, Jr, too—extremely talented personalities but not individuals I’d stay up to watch at four in the morning.)

There are a few disappointments regarding RTN—some of which are my own, and some that belong to the channel. Despite my cherished memories of staying up in the wee a.m. hours when Bachelor Father was on CBN, it’s revealed itself to be a pretty bland sitcom offering—and I don’t really think the show hit its stride until John Forsythe’s niece (Noreen Corcoran) started getting a little older…if you know what I mean, and I think you do. They’re still running the public domain Jack Benny shows and while this really isn’t such a big deal I’m curious as to what will happen when they run out. (“Ferchrissake, get me Mayfield on the line!”) Contrast this with Dragnet—which started out with the black-and-white P.D. segments but have now settled into the first season of the 1960s series revival. (Maybe this exposure will spur NBC/Universal to launch follow-up seasons on DVD; I’ve even been practicing my Joe Friday head-nod, if it will help.)

The biggest disappointment of all, however, is that they’re still dipping into the Leave It to Beaver reruns to spackle the gaping 4:00pm weekend hole of the missing Run for Your Life. Doc Quatermass was kind enough to remind me that the series’ original pilot was a segment of The Kraft Suspense Theatre, so I’m now betting Rick will see this show before I do. Well, maybe I’ll luck out this afternoon and it will finally make its debut…but if you hear someone yelling “Khaaaaannnn!!!” from the direction of Clarke County around four-ish…that’ll be me.


Linda said...

IVAN! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE was on at 4!

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

I know! (dances a little jig)

More to come as soon as I find time to sit down and compose.

Doc Quatermass said...

I DVR Bachelor Father weekday mornings for wifey and myself to watch (at 11 am, our RTN affiliate has Beaver on 10 & 10:30 am and again at 11:30 am when the on screen and on-line schedule has Kate and Allie listed, which aired the first weekday of the new schedule and then was replaced by Beaver, and is a show neither of us has any interest in watching again since it originally aired). We enjoy the calm, gentle humor.

We also watch the previous nights The Alfred Hitchcock Hour off of the DVR (occasionally Alfred Hitchcock Presents, depending on the episode since they are in the first season and we have the first three seasons on DVD).

Weeknights there isn't much on. We rarely watch shows off of the Big Three Networks anymore and if I get interested in one it more than likely will be canceled either mid-season or end of first season with a cliffhanger ending leaving you dangling. The cable channels went down the toilet in the 90s both when, Fox, Paramount and Warners gobbled up the Pittsburgh area independents to create their own networks aimed at younger viewers, and the cable channels went to a '70s, '80s and '90s format.

We occasionally watch Turner Classic Movies and several first run shows on the USA network - Monk, Burn Notice, Psych, In Plain Sight, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent). (Use to watch Encore Westerns a good bit, and occasionally Fox Movie Channel before I had to drop the lower tier of digital when Comcast bumped my monthly bill up from the upper 70 plus dollars to the upper 90 plus several months back; I lost the Sci Fi Channel as well - not a big loss).

More on RTN later.

Doc Quatermass said...

Run For Your Life was on this weekend both Saturday and Sunday at 3 PM ET (haven't watched either off of the DVR yet). Saturday was Season 1, Episode 4: Never Pick Up a Stranger (11 October 1965) and Sunday was Season 1, Episode 2: The Girl Next Door Is a Spy )20 September 1965). Looking forward to seeing the third season two part episode based on John D.MacDonald's 1955 novel, "CRY HARD, CRY FAST" again.

The Bold Ones was on at at 4 PM ET. Yesterday was a Lawyers show (Season 1, Episode 2: The People Against Ortega; Original Air Date: 12 October 1969). Today's Bold Ones was a Protectors show (Season 1, Episode 1: A Case of Good Whiskey at Christmas Time; Original Air Date: 28 September 1969)had one of my favorite character actors Edward Andrews.

A Jack Kelly Kraft Suspense Theater episode aired last night (with the Crisis beginning, the syndication title KST aired under) at 11 PM ET (Season 1, Episode 10: The Name of the Game; Original Air Date: 26 December 1963). Last week a Kraft Mystery theater ep aired in that time slot.

The nice thing about seeing many of these shows again is being able to appreciate them better with adult sensibilities.